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This commentary originally appeared in Forbes.

At a time when Main Street is calling for the scalps of business titans from John Thain, the former chief executive officer of Merrill Lynch, to Ken Lewis, CEO of Bank of America (NYSE:BAC), somehow Donald Trump remains unscathed. Not just unscathed but extremely popular.

NBC (NYSE:GE) just announced that it will pick up Trump's Celebrity Apprentice program for another year. His namesake casino may have filed for Chapter 11 in February, but there are still a lot of leadership lessons we can learn from the Donald.

He has mastered the art of defining the core values of his brand and leveraging his brand equity to appeal to a wide customer base. In a time when consumers are seeking to stretch their shopping dollars further than ever before by buying brands they trust and know are of good value, companies absolutely need to define themselves and differentiate themselves. The winners will be those who carve out and cultivate their brand positions. They can take many cues from Trump.

Trump has been so successful in large part because he has managed to build a lifestyle brand around the luxurious and successful life that he lives and most people aspire to. He works hard to cultivate the image, and he uses it to expand into new business lines and find new areas for profit. From his real estate developments to his casinos and books, his new ventures are selected to dovetail with his core image.

When he sells a suit in the Donald J. Trump signature collection, or says "You're fired" on his wildly successful The Apprentice, consumers connect. They believe that a man who has made and lost and re-made billions knows what a good suit is, just as, when they see him dressing down a contestant on his TV show, they believe he knows what it takes to be a successful manager.

A good example of a company that has likewise leveraged its brand to expand its businesses and find new revenue streams is Best Buy (NYSE:BBY). Best Buy defeated the now defunct Circuit City because it was able to convince people that it had a better selection of products at a better price, and a more knowledgeable staff. Now that Best Buy stands alone, it is taking consumer perception of its brand and using it to increase its offerings of private-label electronics.

With its Geek Squad, RocketFish, Insignia, Dynex and Init brands, Best Buy is offering value-priced electronics and electronics-related service to the masses. Its approach is believable because Best Buy has spent years building up the perception that it knows electronics and knows value. People believe Best Buy knows electronics the way Donald Trump knows luxury condos and fancy suits.

In managing a company, you need to consider what its core competency is before you try to move into new product lines. Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) made an ill-fated attempt to sell electronics under its own private label, iLO. Consumers believe that Wal-Mart knows cheap, and that Wal-Mart can offer the best deal on tissues or cotton swabs. They don't buy that Wal-Mart has any real expertise in electronics. They still want to buy an expensive flat-screen TV, and they look for value ahead of a bargain-basement price.

The Trump name has become strongly associated with real estate development, and Trump has done an excellent job promoting the idea that he owns properties around the world. That's not untrue, but many of the grand developments that bear his name aren't actually his. After going through bankruptcies and the ups and downs of the real estate market, he has learned to reduce his risk. He puts his name and his image to work while keeping his costs and exposure low.

Properties like Trump World, in Seoul, have licensed his name but aren't owned by him. He gets a fee for lending out his name, makes sure there's quality control and gets great marketing out of having another big Trump-branded property in the marketplace.

He thereby builds his brand without having to worry about the perils of having too many assets on the balance sheet. Many executives like to run companies with huge numbers of employees and extensive hard assets, to feel powerful. But as the financial crisis has made clear, businesses should focus on return on equity ahead of pure revenue and asset numbers. After all, Lehman Brothers was flush with employees and assets.

Another example of a company that knows how to reduce cost and risk yet remain immensely profitable is Body Glove, the maker of athletic wear. Body Glove has been making wetsuits since the 1950s and has expanded into sunglasses, swimwear, footwear, bags and a host of other products, yet it still has only a few dozen employees. Despite its small size, it has become a well-known international brand by carefully attaching its licensed name to products of other companies.

Finally, like the best door-to-door salesmen, Trump is always on the job. Whether he's on Larry King Live, on The Apprentice, taking part in WrestleMania or walking down the street, he knows that every moment is a sales opportunity, and he's ready for it. He always wears his own ties and mentions that he is at his newest golf resort when giving a TV interview.

He realizes that sales and marketing is 24/7. Compare that with a celebrity like Michael Phelps, who failed to realize how much his persona had to do with his ability to earn. Phelps didn't destroy his swimming career when he was caught on camera smoking marijuana, but he did damage his credibility as a nice guy--credibility you need if you want to be a celebrity endorser of a company like Kellogg (NYSE:K). The Donald knows that his savvy but eccentric image helps sell, so he plays it up. And he knows people are always watching.

Trump embodies all of the grimy excess of the late 20th century, yet people love him and remain fascinated by him. That is because even though he likes to give massive building developments his name, he lacks hubris. He is one of the world's richest men, yet he appeals to the average Joe. He's willing to make fun of his hair, his failures and all his shortcomings. Which just makes him that much more likable.

Shaun Rein is the founder and managing director of the China Market Research Group, a strategic market intelligence firm. He writes often for Forbes on leadership, strategy and marketing.



Source: Forbes: Genuine Business Lessons from Donald Trump